The Airline History Museum is in the process of restoring a Boeing 727 to flight. N874AA is currently parked at Boeing Field in Seattle and recently had its 40th anniversary. To celebrate, the museum opened it up to visitors. Rob Edgcumbe went along for GAR to find out more about the aircraft, and the team restoring it.
N874AA is a Boeing 727-200 that spent its entire service life with American Airlines. Upon retirement it was moved to Boeing Field in Seattle Washington where it was part of the Museum of Flight’s collection. However, the museum also had possession of the prototype 727 which was undergoing restoration at their restoration annex up at Paine Field in Everett Washington. When this aircraft was made airworthy for the ferry flight to Boeing Field, there was no longer a place for N874AA.
The aircraft was earmarked to be scrapped but, with only a few days of this taking effect, John Delapena heard about it and decided that something needed to be done. John is connected to the Airline History Museum in Kansas City which became famous for saving a Constellation and, more recently, for restoring an L-1011 TriStar that was stored in Tucson. John approached anyone he could find about taking over N874AA and got a receptive response so the disposal was put on hold.
There then followed two years of negotiation about the transfer of the aircraft. Meanwhile, the aircraft needed somewhere to stay as it didn’t have a space at the museum anymore. Consequently, it got moved around the airport on a regular basis until finally coming to its current location. John, who is a board member for the project and unofficial project manager finally secured a location that was also accessible. Previously, nothing could be done on the airframe but now it is in an area in which work can be carried out.
Despite the amount of time it has been out of service, John says that there is remarkably little that needs to be done. The full documentation history from new is still intact and there are not many issues that have to be addressed. There is some corrosion in the belly area but this is a known 727 issue and a repair procedure from Boeing exists so that is relatively easily resolved. The fire bottles have a seven-year life so they are out of date but can be sourced. The engines are the largest issue. An AD exists in the current engines. This engine isn’t really used anymore. Five years ago, there were plenty of shops that could have worked on them but the dwindling fleet of 727s means that is no longer the case.
There are some engines that are currently being looked at though. Sources are being evaluated and it is believed that the engines will be available. However, they won’t be installed once acquired until closer to the flight date since running them would be required once installed and that is seen as an unnecessary waste of effort. They will be stored in the interim.
The long term plan is to restore the aircraft to airworthy condition and relocate it to Kansas City. However, that is a few years off for now. This year the plan is to get into the restoration in a big way. With access to the aircraft now simplified, they are looking for volunteers to support the restoration effort. Four or five volunteers work on a regular basis and about 10-15 students from the nearby Raisbeck Aviation High School also volunteer. They are great contributors to the program. Part of their curriculum is to have a flight simulator on their laptops and many have downloaded the 727 to practice flying it!
2018 will be a year of getting a lot done during the summer. The winter in Seattle is not a great time to be working outdoors so there will be a quiet period and then John says that 2019 will be the big push to get flying. The aim is to fly in the summer of 2019. The aircraft will stay in Seattle after that with 2020 being a year of running flights around the area. The following year it will probably relocate to Kansas City but even then it will be taken around the country to airshows to show it to as many people as possible.
All of this requires money of course so fund raising is a big push for this year. Even parking it costs $350 a month and plenty more will be needed. The open house was the start of a fundraising push. Events like meals on the plane have already been held and there will be many more. The goal is to have cheaper events that more people can attend and that will be low enough to have people coming back more than once. They don’t want to dissuade supporters from getting involved. The whole project is funded by volunteers like John and his team.
They are also building an online following. The museum has a website but, for information about the project, the team’s Facebook page is the best source of up to date information on progress with the aircraft and the upcoming events. It can be found at https://www.facebook.com/N874AA/.
This aircraft has never done anything other than fly passengers with American Airlines. It has never been converted to a freighter. They even have the bill of sale in amongst all of the other documentation. It lists the customer address as Avenue of the Americas, New York NY which was where the American Airlines headquarters was located right up until the move to Dallas, a move that took place as the plane was being delivered. Someone circled and crossed out the address and hand replaced it with the new address in Dallas.
Hopefully, N874AA will soon have a second life flying paying passengers to experience life as an airline passenger in a previous generation. The team has plenty to do but a very achievable goal and we shall keep track of their progress towards flight and beyond. Good luck!